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Amritpal arrest: Covert communication tools used by radical fugitive under lens as hunt continues

A secessionist act or law and order menace? Punjab police and NIA tread carefully

Amritpal Singh CCTV footage (File) CCTV footage shows Amritpal Singh walking on a street in Delhi

The Union home ministry is closely watching the situation in Punjab after video and audio clips of radical fugitive Amritpal Singh have emerged on social media even as both central and state police agencies are analysing the covert communication platforms being used by him to reach out to the public. 

As rumours swirled whether Amritpal was in preventive detention of the police already, sources in Punjab police told THE WEEK that Amritpal is still absconding--embarrassing as it may be for the police agencies--the fugitive has evaded arrest after the close shave in Hoshiarpur days ago.

The police had received inputs that he was in Hoshiarpur but by the time the teams reached there at midnight, he had escaped. He is believed to be moving in and out of Punjab, leaving little clarity on whether he is inside the state at the moment. 

Technical surveillance and a manhunt using human intelligence have been employed by the Punjab police which is closely working with the Intelligence Bureau to track him. It is learnt he is not carrying any mobile phone and is using the mobile phones of different persons when he hides in different locations.

“It is a time-consuming process to analyse the covert communication platforms,” said a senior security official. There are ways to analyse the digital footprints and police officials said they have managed to zero down on his locations multiple times which is why he is feeling the heat and releasing video and audio clips.

A battle of perception is being fought alongside as Amritpal is giving a call for an assembly of Sikhs (Sarbat Khalsa) on April 13, beseeching the Akal Takht Jathedar, who has not responded to this plea so far.

According to police sources, Amritpal has exposed himself before the community as he escaped arrest despite promising to stay the course and face arrest for breaching the law; no protests and gatherings have taken place in his support till now and the religious community is trying to keep a distance from his demands.

“The big question is what issues does he want to highlight by calling for a gathering of the community? If it’s the drug menace in Punjab, then why was he equipping his aides with swords and sticks? Why was he creating a militia?” said a senior official. “And if it is secessionist calls (of Khalistan), is he trying to take Punjab on a path of violence once again?” said a counter-terror official.

The answers to these questions may be found in the next couple of days or when Amritpal is arrested and interrogated by the police.

Politically, the Aam Aadmi Party government is looking at countering the criticism mounted by the opposition parties for not acting against Amritpal.

“The state cannot be a mute spectator. So action has been taken against Amritpal and his supporters after they took law into their own hands(Ajnala violence). And when the state takes action, it cannot be criticised for doing its duty,” an official said.

Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency, which has its unit in Chandigarh, is also keeping a close watch on the situation but has not stepped in so far. The Punjab police has slapped cases against Amritpal and his aides, booking them under the National Security Act and various sections of the IPC, but they have not been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which gives the mandate to the MHA to ask the NIA to investigate scheduled offences. In the absence of it, the NIA cannot investigate the matter.

Security sources said it is for the state police to analyse the evidence 'prima facie' to take a call whether to press charges under the stringent anti-terror laws or proceed with the crackdown on him and his aides under the National Security Act and IPC. Further investigations and revelations will decide the next course of action both by the central and state police forces.

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